Waking up from our glorious dream about being lost on a desolated island is hard and rough but necessary. Today we cross the Darién Gap and things will not be easy. Once our bags are packed Attiliano gives us a lift, a ride, a navigation… I’m not sure how to call it but we get into the tree-trunk-canoe and soundless we glide over the water till the island of Caledonia. There is little to visit but the island is one of the most important communities and there is a harbour which we need in order to find a transport.
Many boats and slow motorised canoes come and go but not one of them will cross the border. We ask a Colombian commercial boat trading with the islands, as we have been reading, but no chance. The rules of the game have changed and the Kuna are forbidding Colombian having a piece of the tourist money cake. Colombian traders are allowed in Kuna Yala as they bring merchandises as sugar, rice and flour. Better even as the Kunas pay them with coconuts, something they have so much they would have to throw them away. Now coconut is 0.50 dollars or Panamanian Balboa and that means money in Kuna Yala as each boat leaves the territory charged with 30/40.000 cocos! After a long day of waiting and asking about a million boats we finally get grip on a Colombian skipper who comes till Caledonia with his grandson to buy some big lobsters. He tells us he will bring us to the border, he’ll wait for us and then bring us to Capurganá where there is the immigration office to stamp the entrance in Colombia. Relax and with no more worries on our mind we watch amused how kids are fishing at the dock of the small harbour.
Time passes by and no sign of life from our captain. Seconds tic-tac away on the clock and soon the border office will close and no more passports will get stamped. We look for him and luckily it is a small islet, we find him eating with a local family. He tells us the lobsters didn’t arrive yet so we have to wait. We tell him we have to stamp and the border close at 16:00 but he says not to worry. At 17:00 the lobsters are finally bought and we can go… with the border closed! It is a long slow boat trip in a small vessel with a few horses strength to push us through the ever growing waves, each time further from the main land. The sun slides away behind the mountains, giving space to darkness as we leave the last bit of protecting coral reef behind us.
The growing swell is pushing the boat and we get sprayed more and more. Far overland we see the black shade of the mountains against the dark blue sky. We are cold, late and not sure where we will end up. The first stars are already appearing by the time we see some dolphin fins between the waves some 100 meters away. A bit later and luckily far away we even see the grey triangle back dorsal fin of a shark cleaving the water surface. The trip takes hours and short flashing light signals are coming everywhere out of the jungle communicating with the capitan, so it seems. We cross the border like Africans do to Europe, Asians to Australia and Cubans to the States, without being seen, without any control and in our case even without knowing it and end up in Sapzurro, Colombia. Nice! But without a stamp out of Panama. We agree, by not paying yet, that he will bring us tomorrow to Puerto Obaldía.
We have a nice evening in this tiny settlement, walk around looking for something to eat, even greet the local police and go to sleep early. In the morning we wake up, get in the boat back to Puerto Obaldía, cross the border to Panama again and get everything drug checked, weapon checked, identity checked… and finally we get the ‘your-visit-is-over’ stamp.
About 40 minutes later a small boat with a few horses strength to push it through the waves arrives at Capurganá and officially we make our first step on Colombian soil.
Our recommendations: (and info for crossing the border)
-There are airplanes (Book long time ahead at AirPanama) from Panama City till Puerto Obaldía and of course directly to major Colombian cities. But like this travellers would not experience the indigenous culture San Blas and Kuna Yala.
-In the harbour of Panama City it is possible to find big ships with destiny: Cartagena (Caribbean side) or Buenaventura (Pacific side) this last one is far into Colombia near to Cali. The free ride is in chance of working on the vessel. Cargo ships do not promise any date of arrival and often we have heard and written that it takes about 3 till 4 weeks. Girls traveling alone should be very careful by choosing this alternative. None of both sides offer a view on the local indigenous populations and culture.
-Traveling to the harbour of El Porvenir gives options to find a free ride and navigate with sail ship (If paying: about 400/500$) or bigger industrial ships through a small but beautiful part of San Blas. Yet friends of us told us there were lots of people trying and waiting for a long time and got stuck in this town. The lucky travellers will see the islands, might even stay a night on one of them but will not see the Kuna communities. But hey, it’s for free! (Travellers still need a 4×4 entering in Kuna Yala and later a boat to reach El Porvenir)
-There are 4×4 who bring you to El Cartí (Emilio – 66927113) for 25$, 12$ tax for entering the area and 5$ water transport to the main Cartí island. At Cartí island we got lucky asking around and got a boat trip till Mulatupo for 40$, ask for El ‘Negrito’ who offers a transport to Capurganá for 135$ or ask for Juan Gomez who offers a transport to Puerto Obaldía at 100$ but it’s not shure to arrive the same day. Both options are boat trips for about 8hours or more so take care of sun cream, hat, sunglasses,…
-To stay on one of the desolated islands: At the island Caledonia (near to Puerto Obaldía), look for restaurant ‘Amelia’ and ask for Attiliano. He offers an island at 7$ a night and can (optional) provide you with meals. At Caledonia there is a Kuna hut to buy bread and another one which serves as grocery. There is also a public telephone. The chance rate at Caledonia Island is about 2000 Colombian Pesos for 1 dollar. Once in Capurganá it is about 1800 for a dollar. From there till the border is patience every day there are people crossing the border, just be there at time and wait. The crossing till Capurganá is about
-In Puerto Obaldía you’ll need 2 copies from the passport